The Army’s Inferiority Complex

(This post was written in 2004, and was originally on UNC Prof. Cori Dauber’s Ranting Prof blog.  Since those archives are now gone, I posted it here so it wouldn’t be lost forever. )

I spent a couple of decades in the aerospace world, both as an Army employee and as a marketing manager for a company that still is a primary ammunition and missile supplier to the DoD.  I went to Washington a lot, and actually lived there for a few years, representing my company to the Pentagon, TRADOC centers (e.g., Ft. Belvoir, Ft. Monroe, etc.), USMC HQ, Capitol Hill, and the Army Material Command in Alexandria.  I held a Secret Clearance for 19 years, and a Pentagon pass that permitted me to walk in unescorted, and escort other visitors, into the Pentagon.  I was in the wing that was destroyed by al Qaeda at least three times a week.

Obviously, in the course of those years I dealt with all Services pretty extensively.

Now, these comments are strictly about the acquisition executive management and Pentagon processes; they speak not at all about the incredible soldiers in the field- those in all three services with boots on the ground (or air, or water) and putting their lives on the line.  Those fighting soldiers are the finest in the world, as the luminously brilliant military historian Professor Victor Davis Hanson ( so aptly describes in his work.

On Thursday, March 11, 2004 National Review Online had a posting by old jarhead Tom Smith on the Marine mystique, the difference between the USMC and the other Armed Services:

He is right- in my own observation there is absolutely a difference. But in the world of Pentagon politics- which most importantly means, of course, allocation of money, each Service had its own distinctives that were noticeable even to an habitually oblivious rockhead (note- not a jarhead) like me.  I met and dealt with a lot of the finest and most dedicated, high quality people I have ever known in my life- for example, Army COL Richard Knox and COL David Hugus- men who demonstrated a significant difference from the unmitigated BS about the alleged types of people who pursued careers in the military that I had been fed in college during the anti-war days so beloved by Senator Kerry.  I also met several people who were obviously extremely fine warriors, and who I therefore wouldn’t want to let loose in the same state with my daughters.

But you really learn the measure of a person by how they deal with that most horrific of challenges.  I speak, of course, of the formation of the DoD R&D and procurement budget.  Lesser men weep when waylaid in the middle of the night at a General Officer Briefing of the Program Objectives Memorandum after months of preparation.  One mousy little guy from the Program Analysis and Evaluation office armed with 50 transparencies shoots your carefully vetted line item justification full of holes and you go throw yourself off the footbridge leading into the POAC (Pentagon Officers Athletic Club), where we would go to run at noon (LtCol Jim O’Looney and I were always the slowest, lagging a block or two behind the other guys as we circled the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol and jogged back toward the bridge and the Pentagon).

The Air Force staffers had a “too cool” swagger.  They exuded a sense that only fighter pilots really counted, the rest of the Services were there to clean up after them.  They also left an impression of entitlement regarding splits in the budget authority, and were very smooth in the political infighting- put an Air Force person in front of a Congressional staffer next to an Army person and the USAF always won by explaining that the $500 million in new missiles was really great, thanks for the much needed appropriation, but they somehow forgot to build the airstrip and needed a little re-programming money out of someone else’s share…….  after all, if you didn’t have Air Superiority, the war was already over.

The other marked point was that the USAF had exactly zero interest in providing support to the grunts on the ground; every year the brass tried to kill the A-10 Warthog close air support (CAS) plane because it was too slow, too ugly, and it was a waste of time and, worst of all, RISKY to make the silk scarf guys fly low just to shoot at tanks and stuff to protect the infantry instead of doing hot rod dogfights like Top Gun.  Let ‘em do it themselves with helicopters or something.  Or maybe catapults.  One would never have known that only 50 years earlier it had been called The Army Air Corps; ungrateful offspring!

The Navy had a numbers obsession: “600 ships”.   It also had a split personality- water or air?  Air or water?  Surface or submerged? They had their constituency and supporters- there was some battling between the carrier flyers and the Air Force over whose plane design would prevail, but there was something about those white suits that inhibited the debate a little bit.

In the Pentagon, the Army was your nerdy brother-in-law.  It had as many brilliant, brave, and capable people as any other Service, but somehow always ended up in the back of the bus.  This was largely a function of a serious, terminal, intractable case of the dread disease of large organizations: Terminal Budget Envy.  The Army’s mission was down crawling in the muck, not Flying Through The Air With The Greatest Of Ease, or Sailing The Ocean Blue.  The problem is that in most large organizations, not only the military, the size of a man’s worth is directly proportional not to his male anatomy, but to the size of his budget allocation from Up Top (SecDef Management).  Because, personnel costs aside (we are talking here about Crusader, remember) it is a lot cheaper to build guns and combat vehicles than to construct airplanes and ships, it is always cheaper to equip an acceptable version of an Army than to equip a flight crew with something that could fly at Mach 1 doing circles and loops while dodging infrared seekers.  Because, in the Army (as with the USMC) more than with the Navy and the Air Force, where they battled from stand-off, People Matter.  You win the real war with boots on the ground by occupying territory.  And one Bradley Infantry Vehicle carries a bunch of troops, while your average fighter plane has one or two people in it.

The Army brass in the Pentagon was, therefore, convinced that the core of the mission was Getting The Army’s Fair Share of budget authority.  This was almost more important than taking care of piddling little details like making sure that there were enough bullets available for the assault

They reasoned that the way to do this was to be like the Air Force and the Navy and always have at least one, preferably two, new major platform programs- a new tank, a new howitzer, a new helicopter, etc., to be able to stake an equivalent budget claim that would compete with the Navy’s ships and the AF planes.  And, in a constrained environment, which is ALWAYS the case in DoD, because no matter how fat the Defense Budget looks to the envious eyes of every other far less important branch of federal government (every other need can be handled, and is to some extent, at the state and/or local level), there will always be more vital missions for the military than it is equipped to handle.  There will always be a need for more people, more weapons to permit winning with fewer casualties, better logistics support, better training, and so on literally forever (all of these missions are simultaneously being handled in Iraq).  Two paragraphs down I will illustrate this with a real-life example, but first, the other Service.

The US Marines are part of the Navy, yes, but not really.  As the bastard stepchildren of leaders who would rather sail than fight, they started out sucking the hind teat in their own department, and thus had to make a decision early on: “Do we sit in the corner and pout because Mom has always liked older brother Billy better, or do we suck it up and take pride in making it without Mom?”  The Marines decided to take their lousy budget and make it a point of pride that they could and can do more with less than anybody else.  So they are out there with old stuff continuously maintained and often held together in the field with duct tape and super glue, but as White said in his NRO piece, that is part of the mystique- people win wars, not materiel- even though the vastly superior materiel we have today is critical to our lower casualty, reduced collateral damage warfare of the 21st century.

Incidentally, that funding competition dynamic is a central issue, in my context from which to observe the feud between Secretary Rumsfeld and the Army brass, especially now-retired Gen. Shinseki, surrounding the cancellation of the Crusader self-propelled howitzer.  You can go ask someone on the inside of the Army acquisition structure about Crusader, and he (almost always “he”) could probably tell you a long story about the age and inadequacies of the M109A5 and M109A6 Paladin series, and how it has taken forever to replace that relic, the need for accurate and very long range heavy artillery, shoot-and-scoot, how scatter-shot the MLRS is (one or two mils circular error probability for howitzers vs. about 20 for unguided MLRS, which is a big deal the longer the range at which you shoot), etc.

But a review of the funding history of the Crusader- and I was there for the entire multi-year birthing process and was involved in a lot of the subsystems- essentially shows that the operational need justification (the ROC, for you ‘80’s insiders) has evolved over a couple of decades.  Different selling points have surfaced at different times, depending on the budget and mission environment, with one common thread: Crusader became the official Army Budget Equity platform: i.e., if the USAF and the Navy get Joint Strike Fighters, Stealth bombers, and Cruise Missiles, by gum, it is only fair that the Army gets its own big platform program too, regardless of the relative priority need in the total joint strike warfare model.  So, the requirement was a bit shaky as a critical need that could be satisfied in no other way, but it was also the only horse they could ride at this point, since no opponent was fielding any new tank superior to the M1A2, no armored infantry fighting vehicle more capable than the Bradley, or “jeep” better than the Hummer.  The only thing that hadn’t been improved from the platform up for quite a while was the self-propelled howitzer.  Tactical missiles were nice, but not big enough in the total budget scheme.

So, Crusader was designated the “fund it or drop-dead” candidate, meaning that other candidates were simply chopped down in priority so all the budget eggs could ride the back of Crusader without the constant internal competition that is ubiquitous in the inter-Branch rivalries of the DA Pentagon world.  Even though the various revolutionary capabilities of Crusader could be designed to be just as useful as add-ons (“PIPs”- product improvement programs) to the Paladin M109, not requiring all new designs.

The Congressional district workloading plan for Crusader had been meticulously managed- Pennsylvania would get fire control production, Texas>  new ammunition load and assemble, Oklahoma (JC Watts’ district, considered to be fireproofed, because of Rep. Watts’ high-profile visibility) would get final assembly, Minnesota fire control design, and so on, based on who was the Congressional water carrier in the House Armed Services Committee, in the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, and so on.

Now, in that context admittedly filtered through only one flawed person’s eyes, re-look at the SecDef-Army Staff war again.  For Rumsfeld to simply cancel the program, just because it is a Cold War relic that is too heavy, not cost effective, and doesn’t offer much useful force multiplier capability in the new world of not-European-land-war (how much artillery do we use in Iraq?  Name every news story that talks about artillery instead of helicopters and airplanes), leaving the Army without a major platform program is simply, well, a breach of faith.  Unfair.  It’s the last straw, crap-tossing at the Army, already the last guys at the far end of the table.  Mom STILL likes you best and I’m madder than heck about it.

The Crusader history inherently provided all of the justification needed to kill it as a completely new platform.  Every new capability it boasted had been proposed several times over previous years as product improvements to Paladin.  And the Crusader mission need justification had been horribly managed, on a pure short-term tactical basis. Some years it was sold as providing the critical new chassis- fast, maneuverable for modern firing on the move.  The analysts would then note that the big need to secure the essential loss-exchange ratio was really longer range, so the next year the budget justification would highlight the proposed new longer barrel gun.  The analysts would ask if the added range was accurate enough to shoot on the move, and the next year the analysis would focus on inertial reference digital mapping in the fire control, with or without GPS. The analysts would then note that you could get more range more cost-effectively by simply upgrading and “smartening” the ammunition, the last thing anyone wanted to hear, since upgraded ammunition is relatively cheap and has its own ceiling-capped budget and doesn’t necessarily require any costly changes to the self-propelled howitzer, sort of defeating the purpose.  So, the budget support would switch to speed and maneuverability, “shoot-and-scoot”, meaning a need for a new engine PLUS the ring laser gyro inertial reference azimuth positioner and ballistic computer.

The problem was that for virtually every feature, if you looked at the battlefield mission from 100 feet up instead through the eyes of an artillery commander, you could see a better way to complete the mission by either thinking outside of the box (missiles fired from UAVs, for example) or product-improving the M109 series, which was not a major platform program such that it could drive the Army budget to the needed level to compete with the damned flyboys or the dogbutt waterjockeys.  And there was always a tantalizing new force-multiplier waiting around the corner as the REAL Great Leap Forward- like the electromagnetic-propulsion gun, a huge improvement if only you could somehow carry along a few megawatts of electric power supply capability on a truck or trailer in a package smaller than the Sears Tower.

So, the cancellation of Crusader was not a simple disagreement over tactical capabilities, it was The Last Straw, the failure of the Secretary to give Army its one new big budget line item platform program to keep some level of fair share budget compared with the other two big Services.  Rummy did not hew to the time-honored tradition of relatively equal budgeting so each of the children got a fair share.  Instead, he has taken combat priorities on a DoD-wide basis rather than allocating top level authority by Service to keep some semblance of even-handedness in the process.

It has been rather like a father giving his third child half as much allowance as the other two; it simply wasn’t done.  And Shinseki had to explain to his colleagues how it had happened on his watch, and the traditionalists in the Army who have risen through the Cold War ranks cannot forgive it.  This is exacerbated by Rumsfeld’s admitted arrogance, among the strongest in Washington, quite a statement.

But this Service re-engineering and mission need re-prioritization needed to be done- and still needs to be completed.  Only someone like Rumsfeld, old enough so he doesn’t care about popularity or worry about bleeding when the arrows fly in from the rear.  I can understand how a very smart former Army artillery officer would disagree with his approach and resent his style; losers in the bureaucracy wars always do.

But I don’t have any skin in the game, and to me it looks like we are going to owe a huge debt to Rummy when he finishes the job he’s doing.

World War IV does not need new advanced howitzers, it needs ground combat, great intel, and civil affairs to clean up the mess after the battle.  Those things don’t look as good as a budget line item.


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